Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Like a mighty wind

Christopher Levenick’s review essay in the new CRB is available on the web. As I noted earlier, he offers us a critical tour through a number of books written by leading lights on the religious left, including Jimmy Carter and Jim Wallis. Here’s a sample of Levenick’s critique:

Take the Religious Left’s approach to poverty. To their great credit, these writers are dead serious about feeding the hungry and clothing the naked. Unfortunately, however, they perceive this obligation as primarily and properly the work of government. Carter speaks for the group when he alleges that "[i]n efforts to reach out to the poor, alleviate suffering, provide homes for the homeless...government office-holders and not church members were more likely to assume responsibility and be able to fulfill the benevolent missions." Little acknowledgment is made of the private sector’s role in creating affluence, or of the fact that a zealous redistribution of present assets will inhibit the creation of future wealth. Yet these errors of practical economics are of less consequence than the grave theological misapprehension beneath them. The challenge and the burden of almsgiving are and ought to be personal. Christian charity does not consist of petitioning the state to redress economic grievances. Rather, it calls upon the individual believer to comfort the afflicted. An ethic geared primarily toward government undermines the crucial sense of personal responsibility for the least of one’s brethren. True charity, like true faith, must be voluntary if it is to be efficacious.

Read the whole thing.

   

Discussions - 9 Comments

You sound like a cheap-skate.


The eradication of poverty is a cultural goal, not just a religious goal. Society building call on us to raise all boats. How someone could be so outraged by the idea of spending a relatively small amount of money to feel people while the idea of spending trillions on stuff that blows up or becomes out of date in a few years is beyond me. Think of all that military hardware that goes to waste.


In the bible Jesus said “feed the poor”, over 300 times. Do you really think he cared how?

Being "generous" with someone else’s money is Machiavellian (see Prince, ch. 16), not Christian. And to the extent that the Bible offers models of publicly-administered charity (to the extent that "it" cares how), the instruments are religious--either essentially theocratic Jewish authorities or the early church. In addition, the Biblical injunction is to give a tithe, a tenth, for these purposes.

I’ll see your scripture and raise you.

And you can’t know whether or not I’m a cheapskate without seeing my tax returns, which I’m not about to share.

Jim Wallis is a very good speaker. I didn’t expect the entire crowd of mostly-conservative (and if not conservative, libertarian) crowd at AU to give him the applause that they did.


Wallis is someone for the GOP to watch out for, especially his very close relationship with Senator Obama. Many people in the 18-25 generation listen to Wallis, and as a viewer of The Daily Show put it, he’s one of the few evangelicals that "my generation" can stand listening to. If Obama runs for President or Vice-President, Wallis is someone who can swing some GOP evangelical votes towards Obama.

If you read some of the links in this post, you’ll see that ardent Democratic secularists recognize the Obama-Wallis connection.

True charity has to be voluntary to be effective in winning salvation. Reasonable people can disagree concerning to what extent government policy can be effective in alleviating the misery of the poor. Some programs do work, after all; I wouldn’t eliminate Medicare, for example, without evidence of a better plan that could actually be implemented in our time. And so true Christians--who are supposed to be interested in cuttng back on that misery by whatever means might work [well, not ANY MEANS, but you get my point]--might or might not support this or that government policy. They might even be very good Christians and very, very wrong on such practical judgments. And don’t worry: Government policy will never be so effective that the need for the virtue of charity will wither away (as the pope says in his encyclical on love).

I second Peter Lawler’s excellent remarks above, but I add this: in order to give a fair assessment of how successful or worthy any act of charity is--public or private--you have to determine not only whether the charity served its immediate purpose (i.e., putting food into the mouth of a hungry person) but also whether the method of assistance works to direct the hungry person toward a long term solution. In other words, the real objective should not be a full belly but a person who can and does feed himself. When we direct ourselves toward the former, we tend to find that we have a lot more hungry bellies around than we imagined. When we direct ourselves toward the latter, it is interesting to see how many formerly hungry people become full.

On the extremes, I acknowledge that advocating this hard kind of head-driven charity can be abused as a justification for not doing anything charitable. But it is also true that many people choose not to do anything charitable because they feel as if they are overburdened by taxes put to that purpose. On the other hand, the "full belly" school of charity doesn’t have an extreme, it is an extreme--an excess of compassion. Without regard to reason, it further degrades its recipients. It’s chief purpose seems to be to alleviate the suffering consciences of those who dole out the charity (largely politicians) and, I admit, it appears to be very effective in doing that. But this kind of charity imagines that it has done much more good than it actually does do--at least on a macro level.

In one’s personal dealings with the needy, I suppose that it is better to err on the side of being gullible. But it is unconscionable as a governing principle in public policy.

Here’s a Machiavellian concept for you - the reason for the government to help the poor has nothing to do with virtue. Having a desperate poor underclass is just dangerous. Even putting aside the concept of social unrest (such as the Los Angeles Riots in the early nineties) you have higher potential crime from hungry people. You have a greater possibility of spread of diseases, like in Africa.

If you are not poor, you are better off if you are not surrounded by people who think they need to kill you in order to survive.

Daniel K, what you propose sounds like a pay-off. You of the underclass: do not bother the rest of us, and we’ll make sure you are comfortable in your life that we’d rather die than join. Have years of government programs intended to help the poor done away with poverty? I suppose we could just recall that Jesus said that the poor will always be with us. That makes for a nice excuse. Have our government programs even reduced the rate of poverty? Maybe. I say maybe, because we in America have defined poverty upwards. Your Africans would not recognize American poverty AS poverty.


Can we even call government welfare programs "charity"? The root of that word is about a kind of love, and where does that fit in government? Wallis’ contention that budgets are moral documents - well, yes. But the relevant morality is in how much that budget requires in taxes coerced, with the threat of force and imprisonment, from the citizen. As it is, citizens have no choice with their support of government programs. Yes, most Americans do have this program, or that one that they would like to support. Would one consider donating to the Medicare/Medicaid programs, because giving to heal the sick is the kind of charity one would love to perform? Could we make such a charitable donation? Or do we like Medicare because we all expect to benefit from it, someday? Then keeping Medicare as a government program is simple self-interest, and not government "charity," at all.


Americans give all sorts of money away, because we have it to give. In Christian terms, might not America be a blessed nation BECAUSE we are a people who give to those in need?


The essay is very good, and about more than poverty. The idea of free enterprise as being about "the love of money" is a good one and interesting to me, because I do not know a business owner who loves money for its own sake. I know SO many conservative, "Religious Right" folks, every one of whose economic lives are about "love of life, love of the earth, love of God, and love of each other" and make money in order to have the pleasure of doing good. If they paid less money in taxes, they would just have more money to give away. I don’t even know that it is a matter of earning salvation with them. They find a simple pleasure in the giving.

I get very scared by people who not only believe in not only God, which doesn’t exist, but also in Socialism, which doesn’t work.

Someday people will be happy believing in provable reality.

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